As vegetarians we usually find ourselves eating dishes based around rice or pasta in some way, shape, or form. Put them both together and you get rice noodles, an interesting variation to boring old spaghetti or a bowl of rice.
And what more perfect way to enjoy rice noodles than vegan pad thai?
Perhaps the most well-known Thai dish and I wouldn’t be going out on a limb if I said that it’s probably most people’s first experience with Thai cuisine.
As with curries, a pad thai recipe is quite a versatile dish, you can throw in whatever takes your fancy. However, as I’ve cautioned before, be careful when ordering a vegetable or tofu pad thai in a restaurant as the sauce would quite likely have been prepared with fish sauce and therefore not vegetarian friendly.
The pad thai sauce recipe I offer below needs a fair bit of cooking time, but has been prepared with a vegan version of fish sauce or soy sauce and once it’s prepared can be kept in the freezer for a few months, ready to be pulled out for a quick weeknight dinner.
Here are a few tips for making a great vegan pad thai:
1. The pad thai sauce should have a balance of sweet, salty, and sour. Always taste it during preparation and adjust the flavours to your liking. If it needs more salty, add more vegetarian fish sauce; if it needs more sour, add more tamarind.
2. There are two different types of tamarind you could use. Tamarind concentrate already prepared and easy to use. Wet tamarind needs to be soaked and the pulp strained before use, but it works out to be cheaper. If you’re not sure how to prepare wet tamarind, check out this tutorial on how to prepare tamarind pulp for Thai cooking from She Simmers. Both tamarind concentrate and pulp can be bought from Asian supermarkets.
3. Don’t boil the noodles but rather soak them in warm water according to the package directions. The noodles don’t have to soften all the way as they will continue to cook in the pan with the sauce. You definitely don’t want them to be mushy.
4. Have all your ingredients prepared before you start cooking your vegan pad thai. It comes together very quickly.
5. Cook each serving separately otherwise it won’t cook properly. Don’t try to cook two servings at the same time in one pan. You can double the recipe to serve more people, but you will still need to cook each serving separately.
- 3/4 cup of palm sugar or brown sugar
- 1/4 cup of tamarind concentrate or pulp mixed with 1 cup of warm water
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1 cup of warm water
- 1/2 cup of vegetarian fish sauce* (see note) or soy sauce
- 200 g wide rice stick noodles (bánh pho)
- 4 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1 package extra-firm tofu (400 grams/14 oz), drained and cut into 2 cm cubes
- 3 garlic cloves, minced, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger, divided
- 2 handfuls of fresh bean sprouts
- 1 tsp chili pepper, minced, divided
- diagonally cut green onions for garnish
- fresh cilantro, minced, divided
- coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts, divided
- 2 lime wedges
- Mix all the sauce ingredients together and taste it to check for a balance of sweet, salty, and sour. If it needs more salty, add more vegetarian fish sauce or soy sauce; if it needs more sour, add more tamarind. Boil the sauce for about 45 – 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced by two thirds and it is thick and syrupy. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen
- Soak noodles in warm water according to package directions. They should be soft and pliable but not too soft or mushy. Rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Fry tofu until browned on all sides, stirring occasionally. Remove from pan and set aside on paper towels to absorb the oil.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic and half the ginger and sauté for 10 seconds. Add half of the prepared rice noodles and 2 – 3 tablespoons of sauce. Adjust the amount of sauce to your liking. Add a bit of water if the noodles are a little hard and cook until they are soft.
- Add half the tofu, one handful of bean sprouts, half the onions, 1/2 tsp chili pepper, and half the cilantro. Cook for 2 minutes or until heated through.
- Serve and garnish with peanuts, a little cilantro, and a lime wedge.
- Repeat process for second serving.
Note: *See this recipe for vegetarian fish sauce